Ed Zablocki, SFO
Co-chair, Work Commission

Let them esteem work as a gift and as a sharing in the creation, redemption and service of the human community. (Art. 16)

Someone very dear to me loves gifts. My wife, Mary, tingles with eager anticipation when she knows a gift is on the way. To assuage her excitement, sometimes I just have to show her the wrapped gift or tell her where it is and this helps her manage her enthusiasm. And don't we all love receiving gifts? A gift is not something we've earned or deserve, it comes to us, in part, to recognize that we are someone special just the way we are. And the gift - as a reflection of ourselves (how many times have you heard "This just reminded me of you"?) is something itself special, a bit mysterious, hidden in boxes and wrapping, concealed and waiting to be revealed.

In the last reflection on "work" in this column, we considered work as a gift given to the world. In giving the gift of our work, we receive an invaluable gift in return. What is this gift? It is the gift of our self. Through our sweat and effort we develop the talents and capabilities we have been gifted with by our loving Creator. So much about our humanity is "potential" - needing to be realized. How helpless the human infant! And it is through play when we are younger and then work as we age that we continue to realize that potential - to become the persons that God intended us to be. As Sr. Joan Chittester relates

The fact of the matter is that work is the one exercise in gift giving that always comes back to the giver. Work leads to self-fulfillment. It uses the gifts and talents we know we have and it calls on gifts in us of which we are unaware. It makes us open to new dimensions of our own personalities and talents as yet undiscovered. (Chittester, "Work: Participation in Creation, Weavings )
His Holiness Pope John Paul II in his encyclical On Human Work is crystal clear about the importance of work to us in achieving our personhood:

Work is a good thing for man - a good thing for his humanity - because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being."
The Holy Father takes his logic a step further to assert that the primary purpose of work is not what is objectively accomplished through human efforts - the making of a meal or the building of a bridge. Work's primary purpose is to help us realize our full humanity in all its dignity: "in the final analysis it is always man who is the purpose of the work, whatever work it is that is done by man."

We receive the gift of ourselves - we more fully realize our humanity - through our work. Our better and truer selves are the gift concealed, the gift revealed only gradually through the means of our work - through our effort of sharing "in the creation, redemption and service to the human community." It is a wonderful, awesome gift indeed!

Dialogue Starter

  1. What work that you have done or are doing (for pay or as part of your everyday life) has helped you grow most as a person?